“Gentefied,” the new Netflix dramedy that producers are calling a “love letter to Boyle Heights,” is unlike any other show on the streaming service. The show’s main focus is on a Mexican-American family in Boyle Heights, each member trying to pursue their own dreams while the neighborhood fights back against gentrification.
There’s Ana (Kerrie Martin), a young queer Latina aspiring to be a successful artist whose resentful mother is unwilling to accept art as a “real job” (let alone her Afro Latina girlfriend). Then there’s Chris (Carlos Santos), an aspiring chef who dreams of Paris as he struggles to be accepted by his own culture. Finally there’s Erik (Joseph Julián Soria), who works in the family restaurant and tries to do everything he can to help his grandfather (Joaquín Cosío) while trying to be the best for his new, growing family.
“Gentefied,” which premiered on Friday, shines the light of the issue on gentrification and aims to represent the dreams and struggles of everyday Latinos.
Last summer, Boyle Heights Beat visited a “Gentefied” set in East Los Angeles during a filming of the ninth episode, “Protest Tacos.” At the restaurant that stands in for the show’s Mama Fina’s, our crew witnessed actor Jenny Lorenzo’s cameo, during a scene with a mass of actors protesting. Afterwards, our reporter chatted with a few cast members.
“I think we’re breaking every stereotype,” said Julissa Calderón, who plays Ana’s girlfriend, Yessika. “I’m a lesbian. I am an Afro Latina. I am a black girl. I am an activist… I’m checking every box. Whatever thing you want to throw at Yessika she’s just gonna fight it cause she’s like, ‘well, I’m that too.’ And it’s great, because you just see everyone represented in this character”.
Yessika is a young queer Dominican girl living in East Los Angeles. She is confident and aware of who she is, refusing to conform to society’s norms, and Calderón hopes that seeing Yessica on the big screen will help young girls gain confidence by owning who they are and loving where they come from.
Linda Chávez, who created the show along with Marvin Lemus, said Gentefied is about creating an impact while sharing stories about the Latino community.
“To tell a story about people that we love, people that we’ve grown up with, Chávez said. “Boyle Heights has such a beautiful history culturally and in terms of activism. We wanted to tell a story of a family [that] represents the different aspects of, not only this community, but the Latino community and Southern California and different areas of the US. We wanted to see our people, our families, our tíos, tías, our primos, shown in very complex ways that we never seen before.”
“Gentefied”, which takes its title from a term reportedly coined in Boyle Heights that combines “gente” (people) and gentrification and loosely means “gentrification by Latinos,” was originally a seven-episode web series. Produced by actress América Ferrera, the web series had a successful premiere at Sundance in 2017. The show was eventually picked up by Netflix, recast and reshot as a ten-episode TV series.
The show had a local premiere of sorts, at a special screening and reception at Plaza de la Raza the night before it began streaming. Introducing the show along Chávez, Lemus called it “a love letter to Boyle Heights”.
Initial reaction to the show has been mostly positive, but even before the premiere “Gentefied” faced backlash from some in the community. Defend Boyle Heights, a prominent anti-gentrification organization in Boyle Heights, posted its opposition on Twitter.
“Gentefied is clearly trying to latch onto the popularity the anti gentrification struggle has countrywide,” the Twitter post reads. “But, by doing so, they commodify the struggle and make a mockery of it!”.
The group went on to say that while activism is portrayed on the show, real activists get severely repressed from trying to stand up for their community. The group added that the only ones benefiting from the show are “Hollywood writers who are hoping to make it big.”
But Annie González, an actor from East Los Angeles who plays Erik’s ex-girlfriend in the series, said that the show’s creators consulted with community groups, including Defend Boyle Heights, in order to do their best to represent the community and its struggles.
“I think they’re doing a great job at representing and if anything, I think they’re forming a conversation,” González pointed out. “And I think that’s what needs to be had. There’s going to be everybody from all around that has opinions about what we’re doing here, but I think ‘hell yeah, if your art isn’t representing the times, why are you making it?’”
“If someone does disagree, yeah, create something else, then show us what your rebuttal is, you know what I mean?, she concluded. “Let’s do a little bit more digging on what it is.”